staff, January 8, 2014

In the first epic clash of the conference season, Michigan State held serve at home against a relentless Ohio State team. Does this give the Spartans the inside track on the Big Ten title? Let's dive in.

In a lot of ways, this was a tough game to figure. MSU fans can point to the fact that their team led nearly the entire game, and that Michigan State's ability to build a 17-point lead over the first 31:58 of game time is indicative of who is the better team.

FIRST 31:58 OF REGULATION Points Possessions Efficiency
Ohio State 38 51 0.75
Michigan State 55 51 1.08

Ohio State fans can point to what happened next – a rash of Michigan State turnovers and a 20-3 Buckeyes run to force overtime – as a sign of their team's superiority.

FINAL 8:02 OF REGULATION Points Possessions Efficiency
Ohio State 20 15 1.33
Michigan State 3 14 0.21

Then, of course, there's the little matter of who actually won the game. That was Michigan State by virtue of continued hot shooting in the extra period.

OVERTIME Points Possessions Efficiency
Ohio State 10 9 1.11
Michigan State 14 10 1.40

Truth be told, I'm inclined to believe that this game shows Ohio State as the better team, if I were forced to rely on this one-game sample (I'm not). The Buckeyes outplayed the Spartans in nearly every area. Let me explain.

Ohio State earned more free throws and got off more field goal attempts (with the Buckeyes' rebounding supremacy overcoming Michigan State's turnover advantage).

Thad Matta's team also had the more optimal shot selection.

% shots at rim % shots 2pt jumpers % shots 3pt
Ohio State 55.2 13.8 31.0
Michigan State 47.4 19.3 33.3

The Spartans had only one advantage, and it was a big one.

FG% at rim FG% 2pt jumpers FG% 3pt
Ohio State 53.1 37.5 22.2
Michigan State 37.0 45.5 57.9

Michigan State made jump shots at an unusually high rate, and that is what won this basketball game. While these Spartans are indeed good shooters, those types of numbers just aren't repeatable. The results of this game don't conflict with what I believed before it was played – Ohio State is just a little bit better than Michigan State.

Of course, the good news for MSU fans is that what I think doesn't really matter. The Big Ten title will be decided by the results on the court, and this is indeed a huge victory for the Spartans. This is looking like a hotly contested three-team race – here's the latest KenPom projected conference win totals, out to two decimals for clarity.

Team Projected B1G Wins
Wisconsin 13.85
Ohio State 13.65
Michigan State 13.57
Michigan 11.38
Iowa 11.22
Illinois 8.52
Minnesota 8.41
Indiana 6.94
Nebraska 5.93
Purdue 5.76
Penn State 5.14
Northwestern 3.63

Ohio State is the highest-rated team in the nation, but Wisconsin projects as an ever-so-slight favorite due to the Badgers' favorable schedule and the Buckeyes' narrow loss in East Lansing (where Wisconsin does not have to play). If Ohio State had pulled off the comeback victory last night, the Buckeyes would be in the driver's seat, but the title race instead remains a dead heat at this very early stage.


Tonight brings a very interesting doubleheader on BTN.

First, at 6pm CT, Minnesota visits Penn State in a toss-up game that could really damage the Gophers' tournament hopes. A loss could send Minnesota into a bit of a tailspin, as the rest of January looks very difficult, and the table above shows that the Gophers don't exactly have a large margin for error.

At 8pm CT, Wisconsin hosts Illinois. The Badgers' stingy perimeter defense should be able to slow an Illini offense that has been fairly good lately, so Illinois will have to hope Wisconsin is cold from deep if it hopes to keep this one close. This is a "house money" game for the Illini, whose tournament outlook wouldn't really be impacted by a loss.